The Top 11: Seattle sports heroes, #11-7

It’s only natural to follow up a list of villains with a list of heroes, so here are the Top 11 in Seattle history.

11. 1995 M’s Supporting Cast. Alex Diaz. Rich Amaral. Chad Kreuter. Bob Wolcott. Mike Blowers. Dan Wilson. Doug Strange. Luis Sojo. Joey Cora. Unless your last name was Griffey, Buhner, Martinez, or Johnson, chances are there aren’t too many people outside the state who had any idea you were on this team. But the 1995 Seattle Mariners were led by an ensemble cast of characters that seemingly produced a new hero every night.

Diaz, a serial head-first diver, and Amaral, utility speedster, spent three months platooning in center field when Griffey went down with a broken wrist. Kreuter, a lifelong backup backstop, laid down a game-winning squeeze to score Amaral in a late-season game. Strange hit a walk-off jack and proved a reliable pinch-hitter off the pine. The 21-year-old Wolcott took the hill for Game 1 of the ALCS. Sojo hit an inside-the-park “grand slam” in the one-game playoff against California. Blowers tied a Major League record with three salamis in one month. Wilson had a breakout sophomore season to kick start his All-Star career. Cora wept, and we loved it.

There were more, too, and we loved them all. You’d never know that they were the team that didn’t win it all. But they fell one series short of the championship. And we don’t care. We still loved them. We still do.

10. Ichiro Suzuki. For eight years, Ichiro has patrolled the outfield for the M’s and in those years he has done the following: Won an MVP award (2001), won the 2001 Rookie of the Year, won eight consecutive Gold Gloves, been named to eight consecutive All-Star teams, won an All-Star Game MVP (2007), had eight consecutive seasons of 200+ hits, set the Major League record for hits in a season (262, in 2004).

If nothing else, Ichiro has proven to be consistently good. Yeah, he may not be the world’s most personable guy, but one laser-beam throw to gun a runner trying to take an extra base helps us forget that.

9. Brandon Roy. B-Roy may be on temporary loan to Portland, but he’s a Seattleite at heart. He grew up in Seattle’s Rainier Valley, attended Garfield High School, then put on a show at the University of Washington before taking his game to the NBA. On any given game night at Hec Ed, a large number of fans still rock Roy’s #3 jersey proudly. And in a city which has a longstanding basketball rivalry with their neighbors to the South, Brandon’s #7 Blazers jersey is sported all around town.

Roy’s smooth skills and natural athleticism helped him lead the Huskies to three straight NCAA Tournament appearances. During the ’05-’06 season, he took home the Pac-10 Player of the Year, beating out Cal forward Leon Powe. In that same year, he knocked down two unforgettable game-tying threes in the same game, against a tough Arizona team at Hec Ed.

Post-college, Roy was selected sixth overall in the 2006 NBA Draft by the Minnesota Timberwolves, who then made the colossal mistake of sending him to Portland in exchange for guard Randy Foye. Roy would go on to win Rookie of the Year honors in near-consensus fashion for the ’06-’07 season. In ’07-’08, he made his first All-Star team and became the unquestioned leader of a young Blazers team with the departure of one-time superstar Zach Randolph.

The Brandon Roy show may no longer be playing in Seattle, but B-Roy will always be one of Seattle’s heroes, no matter where he goes.

8. Mike Holmgren. The head coach of the Seattle Seahawks may be enduring a turbulent farewell tour, but that doesn’t change the fact that he’s one of the most successful coaches in this city’s history. As the only Hawks coach to take a team to the Superbowl, Holmgren will forever be the guy that future Seahawks coaches are compared to. Though he carved his niche in Green Bay with the Packers, Holmgren has actually had a longer tenure in Seattle, now in his tenth season.

A West Coast guy, Holmgren is a native of the Bay Area and got his professional coaching start with the San Francisco 49ers. From there he went on to greater success with the Pack, but has remained grounded in Seattle for the past decade.

In addition to being the on-field leader of the Hawks, Holmgren’s tenure with the team began in dual capacity, as he was also the General Manager. In fact, he largely built the 2005 Superbowl team himself, contributing players such as Matt Hasselbeck, Shaun Alexander, Bobby Engram, Steve Hutchinson, Darrell Jackson, Jerramy Stevens, and Josh Brown, to name a few.

Holmgren may not go out a winner, but long after he’s gone, it’s his success that will be remembered in Seattle.

7. Lenny Wilkens. Lenny has one thing that no other coach in Seattle’s history can claim: a major professional sports championship. He was the leader of the 1979 Sonics that won it all, cementing his legacy in the community that had embraced him.

A native of Brooklyn, Wilkens arrived in Seattle in 1968 following a stint with the NBA’s St. Louis Hawks. From 1969-1972, Wilkens guided the fledgling Sonics team both on and off the court as player-coach. While he wasn’t a superstar player for the Sonics, Wilkens did bring immediate respectability to the young franchise before departing in 1972 for Cleveland.

In 1977, Wilkens returned to the city where his coaching career began and took the reins once again. After a Finals loss in 1978 to the Washington Bullets, the Sonics took to the floor against those very same Bullets again in the ’79 championship. This time Seattle came out on top and Wilkens was hailed as a hero.

In 1985, Wilkens’ Seattle coaching career came to an end, and he’s been on a world tour ever since. Over the past two decades, Lenny has coached in Cleveland, Atlanta, Toronto, and New York. However, he has maintained his home here in the Pacific Northwest and now looks to finally be calling it quits after three years out of coaching and a Hall of Fame career intact.

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